Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles Lakers have retired both numbers worn by Kobe Bryant. — ap file photo

Kobe Bryant wanted to leave a mark in basketball history. His statistics and five world championships have placed him as one of the best who have ever played in the National Basketball Association. On Dec. 18, 2017 he separated himself as the only player to have two uniforms retired by the same team. During halftime of a game with the world champion Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center, Bryant’s number 8 jersey and number 24 jersey were be retired by the Los Angeles Lakers.

The former Lower Merion High standout, whose number 33 jersey has been retired by the school, was humbled.

“As a kid growing up in Italy, I always dreamed of my jersey hanging in the Lakers’ rafters, but I certainly never imagined two of them,” said Bryant in a statement. “The Lakers have bestowed a huge honor on me and I’m grateful for the fans’ enthusiasm around this game.”

He became the 10th player in Lakers history to have his number retired. The others are Overbrook High legend Wilt Chamberlain (13), Elgin Baylor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Earvin “Magic” Johnson (32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), Shaquille O’Neal (34), James Worthy (42), Jerry West (44) and Jamaal Wilkes (52).

Bryant played to win. An 18-time All-Star, he retired as the first player in NBA history to play at least 20 seasons with a single franchise. The self proclaimed Black Mamba helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010) and was the Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. He was voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008 and earned First-Team All-NBA honors 11 times. He was a member of the All-Defensive First Team nine times.

Bryant is the Lakers all-time leader in regular-season games played (1,346), points (33,643), three-pointers made (1,827), steals (1,944) and free throws made (8,378), while owning franchise playoff records for games played (220), points (5,640), three-pointers made (292) and free throws made (1,320).

There were many who thought he was making a mistake when he decided to bypass college and go to the NBA. Now, Bryant is laughing at those naysayers.

For the first 10 years of his career, he wore number 8. At Lower Merion, he wore 24 but in 1996, the year he guided the Aces to a PIAA championship, he switched to 33. That was the number his father, Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant wore at John Bartram High School.

Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets as the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Bryant was traded 15 days later to the Lakers. Bryant couldn’t wear 33 because it had been retired seven years earlier as a tribute to Abdul-Jabbar. He also couldn’t wear 24 because George McCloud, a veteran small forward, wore that number. So, for a couple of reasons, Bryant decided to wear number 8. For starters, it was the jersey number he wore as a child playing in Italy. Another reason was that the number he wore at adidas’ ABCD Camp was 143. When added together, the number is 8.

As number 8 with the Lakers, Bryant played in 707 games, averaging 35.7 minutes, 23.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He also won three championships. He made eight NBA All-Star Game appearances (1998, 2000-06); a scoring title (2006); a slam dunk contest championship (1997); was a named to four All-NBA first teams ( 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006); made four all-defensive first teams (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006); and made four NBA Finals appearances (2000-02, 2004). He also had an 81-point game, second-most in NBA history behind Chamberlain’s 100-point effort. Bryant wore that number for 10 seasons.

Bryant, reportedly wanted to change his image so he switched his number to 24 for the 2006–07 season. As number 24 he played in 638 games averaging 36.6 minutes, 26.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. He made 10 NBA All-Star Game appearances (2007-16); a scoring title (2007); made seven All-NBA first team selections (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013); five All-NBA defensive team selections (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011); three NBA finals appearances (2008-10); two world championships (2009, 2010); was named NBA Finals MVP twice (2009, 2010); and was the 2008 NBA MVP. Bryant, who became a mellow elder statesman of the game, wore that number for 10 seasons.

So in many ways, its fitting that the Lakers decided to retire both numbers. Bryant’s will to win at all costs is legendary. He wanted to win more championships than Michael Jordan. That didn’t happen, but Bryant should feel confident in knowing he will have more jerseys retired than His Airness.

dbell@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5746

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